One small baseball provides huge inspiration for cancer survivor Zach Taylor. Autographed by humanitarian and sports legend Harmon Killebrew, the inscription encourages Zach to “Keep swinging!” And Zach is taking that advice to heart.
Three years after being diagnosed, Zach has fought his way back to being the strong, gifted athlete who was pitching in the district champion baseball tournament when he was thrown a curveball known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.
After practice, on the night of July 17, 2008, Zach began to experience stomach pains and shortness of breath. By Thursday night’s practice session, Zach was having trouble running and had tightness in his chest. Vomiting and a low-grade fever soon followed.
By early Friday morning, Zach’s mom, Tina, was worried. “I took him to St. Luke’s Eagle Urgent Care Center,” she says. After Zach was examined, Tina was referred to St. Luke’s Boise Emergency Department to do some tests and more evaluation.
Less than two hours later, Tina met with Dr. Nicolas Camilo, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist with St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute. “He told me he was 99.9% sure that Zach had leukemia.” Zach was admitted to St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, where a bone marrow aspirate and spinal tap were performed to confirm the leukemia diagnosis and to identify the specific type of leukemia that Zach had so they could begin treatment immediately.
The ALL was taking a toll on Zach’s young body: an increasingly high white blood cell count, an enlarged spleen, and a mass in his chest – which meant the need for immediate chemotherapy. It worked. “Zach’s white blood cell count was 110,000 on Friday night, and by Monday morning it was down to 14,000,” Tina recalls. But the battle had just begun.
Over the coming months, Tina and Mike watched as their son lost his hair and 25 percent of his body weight, but “Zach never lost his spirit,” says Tina. When discharged from the hospital after six days, Zach insisted upon attending the first of his baseball’s team’s state championship games, for good reason. “The day Zach was hospitalized was the same day of the district championship game, and Zach’s team won. They brought the pennant to his hospital room, and it now has a place of honor in his bedroom, along with the Killebrew baseball.”
Over the course of his three-year and three-month treatment protocol, this courageous young man has endured 26 spinal taps, many rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and countless trips to the doctor. “But we got through it, thanks to the support of our friends and family, our neighbors, and complete strangers,” says Tina. “The outpouring of love and support was incredible.” She is also quick to credit the physicians and caregivers at St. Luke’s. “From the start, they were like family. They are absolutely amazing and special people.”
Friends have asked why Mike and Tina didn’t take Zach to a larger city such as Salt Lake City or Seattle for treatment. Because, although this is their first experience with a children’s hospital, “We know St. Luke’s is among the best there is – the care is phenomenal.”
Today, thanks to advances in childhood cancer treatment, the love and support of friends and family, and an incredible will to get back on the playing field, Zach is an active athlete in a number of sports including baseball, golf, skiing, and basketball, a National Junior Honor Society member, and a 14-year-old with experience and wisdom well beyond his years.
The Taylors are appreciative of everything that has been done for their son, and thank everyone who is invested in the fight against cancer. Zach and the entire Taylor family look forward to November 2011 when Zach will complete his treatment. “There’s a lot in the rearview mirror,” says Mike of his son’s ongoing treatment in the battle against ALL. In following Harmon Killebrew’s advice, there is also a very bright future ahead.